New GGNRA General Management Plan That Devalues Recreation

In 2011, while in the middle of the development of a dog management plan for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the National Park Service announced that they also wanted to develop a new General Management Plan for the GGNRA. A General Management Plan is a document that outlines the basic principles and priorities that the agency will use to guide decisions on how to manage the site for the next decade or so. Unfortunately, the new General Management Plan removes “recreation” as a guiding principle in the management of this national recreation area.

When Congress created the GGNRA in 1972, the legislation cited the need to “provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.” Congress said it wanted the GGNRA to “expand to the maximum extent possible the outdoor recreation opportunities available to the region.” Clearly recreation was at the heart of the GGNRA’s creation.

The Park Service created the first General Management Plan for the GGNRA in 1980. The Plan reflected Congress’ emphasis on recreational use of the land: “The planned uses of the resources are primarily for recreational activity, consistent with the reasons for establishment of the areas;” and “Restoration of historic natural conditions (such as reestablishment of Tule elk) will continue to be implemented when such actions will not seriously diminish scenic and recreational values;” and “Because most visitors will continue to be local people, there will be a basic orientation to residents of the Bay Area and their needs for cultural expression, socializing, physical exercise, and the whole variety of daily leisure experiences.”

In the years since its creation, Congress never changed the mission or purpose of the GGNRA. Yet, when the Park Service published a proposed new General Management Plan (GMP) for the GGNRA in 2011, the document’s guiding principles for management did not even include the word “recreation.” Indeed, the areas where recreation such as dog walking would be allowed were called “Diverse Opportunity Zones.”

The new GMP designated roughly 90% of the land in the GGNRA as “natural zones.” Dog walking, especially off-leash, would not be allowed in these areas. These zones would be managed for a “backcountry type of visitor experience,” where visitors could expect to experience “a sense of remoteness and self-reliance,” where “challenge, risk, and testing of outdoor skills would be important to most visitors.” The new GMP assumes that “natural zones” would have “low to moderate use levels” where “opportunities for solitude might be found.”

This management philosophy makes sense in an isolated, remote, pristine wilderness area like Yellowstone or Crater Lake. It does not make sense in a national recreation area located either within or adjacent to San Francisco, a city of over 800,000 people. Yet that is what the Park Service proposed.

The 1980 GMP understood that the GGNRA was neither isolated, remote, pristine, or wilderness. It said: “In fact, the park characteristics we enjoy today and perhaps assume to be natural are, in most cases, the result of some degree of human intervention with natural processes.”

Consider how the 1980 GMP says Ocean Beach and Fort Funston should be managed: “The primary management goal in these areas will be to continue to accommodate relatively high use levels with a commitment to intensive maintenance in order to retain the appearance of a natural landscape.” The plan notes that: “To many park users lands in [Ocean Beach and Fort Funston] may appear to be as natural as wilderness areas at Point Reyes, but they are in fact man-created landscapes…”

Yet the new proposed GMP would manage nearly all of these sites like remote wilderness areas, assuming they have low visitor usage, not the “naturalistic” man-created landscapes, with high visitor usage, that they actually are. Indeed, the new GMP will manage three-quarters of Ocean Beach as a bird sanctuary.

The proposed General Management Plan for the GGNRA, with its emphasis on conservation at the expense of recreation, seemed designed to justify the restrictions on dog walking that the Park Service wanted to impose. 

 To read SFDOG’s Official Comment on the Proposed GGNRA General Management Plan, click here.

 Despite all the criticism by dog and recreation groups, the Park Service adopted its proposed General Management Plan in January 2015. They never addressed our concerns that the new plan changed the mission of the GGNRA away from recreation, that is, away from what Congress intended when it created the area.

Sally Stephens